ULTRA 55 Review - Michael Fremer of Stereophile Magazine

Apr 3, 2017
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#21
John has always measured speakers this way. We were thrilled to have our very first speaker ever measured by John. As well as a review by Michael Fremer.
Unfortunately this is an averaged response. This is a measurement that is not important to me. If you read in the review, Michael states he has never reviewed or owned a pair of speakers that behaved so well off axis. He also states this about every room he has covered of ours at the audio shows. The speakers completely disappear. Every seat in the house is a great seat. This wouldn't be possible if you were lacking treble energy. Every VSA owner knows this about our speakers. That you can get up and walk around the room and there is little to no change in the tonality. You can stand directly in between the speakers and it sounds damn near as if your sitting out in the middle of the room. If you look at the Magico M2 review you will see how the M2's tweeter response is very similar. Now my measurements of the tweeter off axis don't show this extreme of a roll off. This is why this measurement means absolutely nothing to do with the performance of this speaker or how the ear/brain mechanism processes. Michael's room does have a nasty bump in the bass frequency but not as audibly noticeable as the graph shows. I would have some tube traps in the corners if the ULTRA 55's were the speakers to stay in that room. But his Alexx speakers when set up are in those corners. The measurement I'm posting is the ULTRA 55's 10 feet apart with the microphone in the listening position equal lateral to the speakers with no room boundaries(free air) in our factory. This is the measurement I care about. Not an averaged response as shown.
Damon and I will be talking about certain things covered in this review and why they are important to us.
View attachment 66531
And this is without the rear ribbon in play since I have no back wall for the ribbon to play off of.
Most of the measured data from the Stereophile review is either incomplete or measured sub-optimally. I think it would benefit VSA tremendously if these errors are identified one by one, explained comprehensively, and rectified. I wonder whether I can take a stab at starting the process?

The laptop screenshot shows a tick on the box ”sine sweep” - what are the exact measurement parameters for the sine sweep, and what are the pros/cons of this method, compared to a “time gated” FFT analysis? At what loudness level was the sweep done? 75dB, 80dB, 85dB and 90dB could be meaningful “real world” levels, though given the energy distribution typical of music being concentrated in the upper bass through the midrange, the highest frequency octave will almost never be played as a steady-state sine wave anywhere near or above 85dB, so there’s really no point in risking frying the tweeter that way.

Precedence and Hass effects aside, I would think that an on-axis sine sweep from the listening position (listening spot) is less important than the composite of off-axis response curves, as direct sound is typically just a fraction of the indirect (off axis) sound.

Aren’t polar response curves, both vertical and horizontal, more illustrative of the predictable, repeatable, and consistent “bubble” of omnidirectional sound which the AIR+GAIN circuit asserts to produce?

And in the time domain, an impulse response graph and a waterfall graph be more illustrative of crossover/driver integration, and rapid attack/decay time signature of the drivers?

After all, this would be the amalgamated summation of the deep proprietary IP and the synergy of all of the active/passive components in the loudspeaker “system” which creates the psychoacoustic magic. Any wizard would show this magic produced through this alchemy with pride and joy, through both an audition, audibly, and objective data, visually. It would be great to see that the distribution and amplitude of broadband frequencies from the off-axis response curves both the horizontal and vertical axis support what is described and readily heard in the walk-around test.

Using the lingo of probabilities to describe “frequency response” there will for sure be differences in means and medians, in distribution densities, as well as skews. Since these measurements can easily be captured with modem software and hardware, why not make the data more transparent, so the objectivists’ checklist can all be ticked off and satisfied?

At the end of the day, the emotions felt during the listening experience is most important, but this should also be supported by solid objective measurements. As an owner of VR-55 Aktives (Ultra internal cabling), I’m super happy about the performance of my loudspeakers, and can assure anyone contemplating purchasing high-end loudspeakers that the audition of the VSA products is absolutely mandatory!

It’ll be really cool to see more of the data - thanks!
 
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Apr 3, 2017
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Apr 3, 2017
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Leif S

Industry Expert
Feb 14, 2015
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California
www.vonschweikert.com
#24
The extreme



Isn't the extreme off axis important , i was told the avg of direct on axis vs off is a better indicator as to how the loudspeakers will sound in room ..
No this is not true. Measurements don't tell you how a speaker will sound. If you read the review Micheal clearly states that our off axis response is like no other he has owned or reviewed. And many other reviewers have mentioned this in their show reports. And VSA owners all know how well our off axis response is. There are many more factors involved then just taking a bunch of lateral measurements and averaging them to determine how a speaker will sound or behave off axis.
 
Likes: mountainjoe

Alrainbow

Well-Known Member
Dec 12, 2013
1,854
516
370
NYC , USA
#25
Most of the measured data from the Stereophile review is either incomplete or measured sub-optimally. I think it would benefit VSA tremendously if these errors are identified one by one, explained comprehensively, and rectified. I wonder whether I can take a stab at starting the process?
The laptop screenshot shows a tick on the box ”sine sweep” - what are the exact measurement parameters for the sine sweep, and what are the pros/cons of this method, compared to a “time gated” FFT analysis? At what loudness level was the sweep done? 75dB, 80dB, 85dB and 90dB could be meaningful “real world” levels, though given the energy distribution typical of music being concentrated in the upper bass through the midrange, the highest frequency octave will almost never be played as a steady-state sine wave anywhere near or above 85dB, so there’s really no point in risking frying the tweeter that way.
!
I doubt a 1 watt signal would fry the tweeter
Using an xover and could you be more specific about JA measurements , what about it is incomplete or sub optimal ..?
 

Alrainbow

Well-Known Member
Dec 12, 2013
1,854
516
370
NYC , USA
#26
No this is not true. Measurements don't tell you how a speaker will sound. If you read the review Micheal clearly states that our off axis response is like no other he has owned or reviewed. And many other reviewers have mentioned this in their show reports. And VSA owners all know how well our off axis response is. There are many more factors involved then just taking a bunch of lateral measurements and averaging them to determine how a speaker will sound or behave off axis.
Thanks Leif ...
 
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Leif S

Industry Expert
Feb 14, 2015
759
147
255
California
www.vonschweikert.com
#27
Hello All,

First off, we’d like to thank everyone who took an interest in this review, all of us here at VSA deeply appreciate it. As many of you know, this was a historic milestone for Von Schweikert Audio since this was our first ever product review with Stereophile and even though the ULTRA 55 is a flagship product, we were very honored and grateful it earned a cover feature in this magazine.

And to be frank, we were very impressed by the entire review process. The level of professionalism by all involved from the Editor in Chief Jim Austin, Michael Fremer as the review of course John Atkinson as the Technical Editor. What impressed us most is how the reviewer (in this case Michael) conducted his review in total isolation of the measurements. Once that was done, John measured the speakers but these two reviews aren’t stitched together until the very end at which time, Jim sent us a copy for fact checking as well as offering us the opportunity to add our manufacturer comments if desired.

We chose not to since we looked at this review holistically and as such, considered it a rave review both for Michael Fremer and John Atkison based on their many objective and subjective observations they documented. Frankly, there are just too many to list here in their entirety but here are a few of the highlights.

"Overall, the Von Schweikert ULTRA 55 measurements indicate excellent audio engineering." - John Atkinson

"Whatever the measurements might say - I won't see them until after the review - I found the ULTRA 55 to be among the more timbrally neutral and pleasing speakers I've reviewed, from the very first listen. They served every musical genre well and are highly competitive in the $100,000/pair price region. If you're shopping in that price range, I recommend an audition." - Michael Fremer

"When I sat in the off-center seat in my room, the ULTRA 55's imaged very well; indeed, they produced the least spatial and timbral shift I've encountered from a loudspeaker in my room. This wasn't surprising because it's what I've experienced at shows and it's what Von Schweikert claims its speakers do especially well. This is NOT advertising hype: I can't recall another speaker I've reviewed or owned that was so well behaved off-axis. These speakers do NOT beam or produce sharp off-axis edges or abrupt timbral shifts." - Michael Fremer

That said, Damon and I were surprised by the amount of emphasis some readers have placed on one of the measurements in particular. Measurements which if as relevant as some may think, would be in direct contrast to the statements above much less the numerous comments we didn’t highlight.

Take for example the spatially averaged measurement which when we were fact checking the review place little emphasis on but in hindsight we can see that we benefit from a greater understanding of how the ULTRA 55 design performs where as someone without that knowledge may make different conclusions from this single measurement if viewed without our experience and without the context of the balance of the observation stated in the review.

For example, this particular measurement was conducted in-room which we understand says as much about the test environment as the subject being tested. In addition, this is done with a single loudspeaker and while conducting this test under these conditions may be more helpful in understanding traditional designs, our loudspeakers however utilize our proprietary GAIN and AIR networks to achieve the remarkable off-axis linear frequency response noted in so many reviews including this one.

This is done utilizing Psychoacoustic techniques achieved with a stereo pair of speakers that couple with each other as well as room boundaries to create a much more linear sound field from far off-axis, especially when standing directly between the two speakers. This was observed not only by Michael Fremer at several audio shows as he states at the beginning of his review but also in his room with his off-center seat observations. In fact, if asked we’re confident owners of Von Schweikert speakers over the decades would claim this is one of the most remarkable characteristics in our designs. Our GAIN and AIR networks are the reason for this which in Michael’s own words are “NOT advertising hype” based on his experiences with our products over the years.

If after reading this you still think the ULTRA 55 has an off-axis high frequency roll off, we encourage you to audition them (or any other VSA loudspeaker) for yourself and make your own assessment. As we often say, personally observations speak louder than words as well as this measurement which we assure you does not represent what Michael observed or you would if given the chance. We are confident in the merits and performance of our designs (specifically the ULTRA 55) and as such, we simply ask you to verify for yourself as Michael suggested. We also encourage you to weigh the many observations stated in this review that are in direct contradiction to the conclusions some readers are making from this one measurement.

Now there are a few other measurements we’d like to provide more context to and ones that we think are quite remarkable, especially in light of how they relate to our competition. We will be posting these shortly.
 

tony22

Active Member
Nov 4, 2019
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#28
Thanks Leif. In my case I did not mean to suggest I thought there was a problem :). In fact I think I suggested the spaced averaging technique may be in question. ;) There is no uncertainty for my part. You guys know what you’re doing. :D
 
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Alrainbow

Well-Known Member
Dec 12, 2013
1,854
516
370
NYC , USA
#29
@Lief ,

I find MF very fair when reviewing and is as solid as they come today IMO, i dont have to agree with every assessment or hang on his every word , but you know where he is coming from and why...

Congrats on what is a solid review , both Objectively and subjectively which is the only correct way IMO to evaluate any product and way above the typical subjective opinion review which is way too common place today ..
 
Likes: Leif S

Leif S

Industry Expert
Feb 14, 2015
759
147
255
California
www.vonschweikert.com
#30
@Lief ,

I find MF very fair when reviewing and is as solid as they come today IMO, i dont have to agree with every assessment or hang on his every word , but you know where he is coming from and why...

Congrats on what is a solid review , both Objectively and subjectively which is the only correct way IMO to evaluate any product and way above the typical subjective opinion review which is way too common place today ..
Thank you:)

Many times I read things I don't always agree with:eek:
 

Leif S

Industry Expert
Feb 14, 2015
759
147
255
California
www.vonschweikert.com
#31
Thanks Leif. In my case I did not mean to suggest I thought there was a problem :). In fact I think I suggested the spaced averaging technique may be in question. ;) There is no uncertainty for my part. You guys know what you’re doing. :D
Tony my friend I never doubted you. I was just trying to make it clear that the measurement posted doesn't really tell weather or not a speaker can behave well off axis. There is so much more to it then just that. It really is the sum of both speakers together that is so important. Albert started this type of design decades ago and we continue to improve on it every chance we get. But Albert really laid a solid foundation for Damon and I. I will really miss him.
Glad to have you in the family!

All the best
 

Leif S

Industry Expert
Feb 14, 2015
759
147
255
California
www.vonschweikert.com
#32
When I can get a few moments I will talk about my visit to Fremers. I had a blast and he was an amazing host!
 
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JackD201

WBF Founding Member
Apr 21, 2010
11,734
721
660
Manila, Philippines
#33
Funny thing about moving to VSAs is I never realized I used to turkey neck a lot with prior speakers. You know, moving my head and even torso to try and stay in a sweet spot that always seemed to be playing hide and seek. Mark a negative point for VSA for reducing my already lacking amount of exercise LOL
 

Mobiusman

Well-Known Member
May 25, 2010
594
191
455
Jersey Shore- waterside
#34
As some of you know, I am a VSA fan because of the sound of their speakers by projecting sound in ways I have never heard a speaker function. I have a pair of E3 Mk2's and a pair of Ultra 9's, which sound very similar, but at opposite ends of the VSA product line. I have essentially a slightly scaled down version of their show system with VAC electronics and MasterBuilt Ultra throughout. my entire system.

First let me state unless you have heard these speakers in a fixed system where all of the pieces are working as a unified system, you have no idea how good they can sound. My home is an unusual environment for audio because I live on the water, with a slider behind where I sit to listen , which is usually open from late March till early November and projects out onto a canal with ample room for the sound to dissipate.

My backyard has two levels, one at the same level as my audio room and another level about 45" lower that goes out to my bulkhead, with my boat about 20+ inches lower depending on the tide. Last week a friend visited who loves listening to my system because he loves the subtlety that my system creates in spades. After listening to my Taiko Audio Extreme for over an hour, we decided to go to my lower level of my backyard and have lunch.

We left the slider open while the system played at very reasonable volume, dropped 45 inches and moved about 15 ' off axis from the open slider and the amazingly the music sounded like it did in my listening chair, but quieter. It was so pleasing as we thought of music we felt like hearing, I used Roon on my iPad to pick music which we happily listened to outside for several hours because of the integrity of the projected sound and we were thoroughly enjoying the music on a beautiful day.

What is really weird is what happened when we returned into the house to go to the kitchen for some ice cream. With each step and turn, the sound remained integrated and merely got louder until we walked back into my listening room and sat in the listening position. While the system clearly sounded the best in the listening position, all of the points from my lower backyard to my listening chair and then into the kitchen were a clearly linked to each other with the sound always maintaining integrity, just like it does in nature.

When you are in the listening position or anywhere close, the reality of the sound is almost spooky with my Ultra 9's playing. To me the conclusion is really simple---- Albert Von Schweikert was a genius who went to great lengths to learn what he needed to know to make speakers that emulate reality. Leif and Damon have taken Albert's work to an entirely better level, but it is Albert's genius with network designs and psycho acoustics at the core of every VSA product. It does not hurt that both Damon and Leif are some of the finest people I have ever met and genuinely care that their customers are totally happy.

This is why VSA's tag is "the sound of reality".
 
Apr 3, 2017
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#35
Here’s an example of a set of very comprehensive speaker measurements - OK, these bookshelf speakers from KEF and Revel are not exactly as large or sophisticated in design as a floorstander like the Ultra55, but these show objective data which can be measured with great precision:

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/kef-r3-speaker-review.12021/

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/revel-m16-speaker-review.11884/
This measurement philosophy, technology, and methodology should perk up the eyes and ears of those of us who are interested in auditioning and purchasing “what’s best”...

“Measurements that you are about to see were performed using the Klippel Near-field Scanner (NFS). This is a robotic measurement system that analyzes the speaker all around and is able (using advanced mathematics and dual scan) to subtract room reflections (so where I measure it doesn't matter). It also measures the speaker at close distance ("near-field") which sharply reduces the impact of room noise. Both of these factors enable testing in ordinary rooms yet results that can be more accurate than an anechoic chamber. In a nutshell, the measurements show the actual sound coming out of the speaker independent of the room.

I used over 800 measurement point which was sufficient to compute the sound field of the speaker.

Spinorama Audio Measurements
Acoustic measurements can be grouped in a way that can be perceptually analyzed to determine how good a speaker can be used. This so called spinorama shows us just about everything we need to know about the speaker with respect to tonality and some flaws:”
 

es347

VIP/Donor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 20, 2010
1,577
19
460
Midwest fly over state..
#36
As a 14-year Von Schweikert owner, I can unequivocally say that this debate about on axis/off axis measurements is NOT really important. As with power amplifiers, the measurements are nice to know but at the end of the day when I'm listening to music, the graphs and internet debates mean very little.

Anyone who has had the chance to listen to VSA products knows that when listening on or off axis (which I do frequently) there is no change in energy, timber or frequency shifts. The music remains seamless at all listening levels. This VSA characteristic is present throughout the entire product range from the Unifield 2 to the Ultra 11. I have listen to them all.
..I’m in total agreement with Holli82 re how seamless the music remains in different areas of the room. This was true with my VR5 Anniversary MkIIs and true in spades with my Ultra 9s. Thursday is house cleaning day and my responsibility is the lower level where my listening room happens to be. As I move around the room dusting the music never fails to distract me. There’s not a square foot of floor space that doesn’t send chills..seriously. The problem is I find myself standing still listening to an entire track. I think it’s safe to say that this phenomenon is a trait shared by all VSA speakers. Albert really knew what he was doing and the duo of Damon and Leif are doing an exemplary job of carrying the VSA torch!
 

steve59

Well-Known Member
Jan 7, 2018
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#37
I don't think the world needs another $100,000 speaker, well not unless it comes with a kitchen, plumbing and a fold down mattress. I would be much more impressed with room friendly, attainable, full range speakers. If this speaker brings advancements to working class audiophiles that's something.
 

Duke LeJeune

[Industry Expert]/Member Sponsor
Jul 22, 2013
584
663
340
Princeton, Texas
#38
I don't think the world needs another $100,000 speaker... If this speaker brings advancements to working class audiophiles that's something.
One way of looking at it is this (numbers not exact of course):

The guy who is upgrading to a $100k speaker will probably sell his $50k speaker for half price, $25k.

The guy who wants that $50k speaker for half price will probably sell his $12.5k speaker for half price.

And so on.

In other words, a killer $100k speaker CAN benefit those not in the $100k league, just not directly. But in a round-about way it kinda sucks for those of us trying to sell our $12.5k speakers at full price!

Not to mention that Von Schweikert's next $12.5k speaker will benefit from what was learned in the development of a speaker designed to beat the competition at $100k. For example it might have cost them $40k to establish which combination of materials and techniques makes the biggest improvement in damping the enclosure, but now they know so they don't have to spend that $40k again.
 

LL21

Well-Known Member
Dec 26, 2010
11,666
563
658
#39
One way of looking at it is this (numbers not exact of course):

The guy who is upgrading to a $100k speaker will probably sell his $50k speaker for half price, $25k.

The guy who wants that $50k speaker for half price will probably sell his $12.5k speaker for half price.

And so on.

In other words, a killer $100k speaker CAN benefit those not in the $100k league, just not directly. But in a round-about way it kinda sucks for those of us trying to sell our $12.5k speakers at full price!

Not to mention that Von Schweikert's next $12.5k speaker will benefit from what was learned in the development of a speaker designed to beat the competition at $100k. For example it might have cost them $40k to establish which combination of materials and techniques makes the biggest improvement in damping the enclosure, but now they know so they don't have to spend that $40k again.
Absolutely true for me going back 25 years! Everything acquired has been demo, 2nd hand plus nearly everything being traded-in as part of purchase. In fact, I have an exact log of every piece ever bought including the discount to retail paid going all the way back to the first boom box acquired in 1986.
 
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JackD201

WBF Founding Member
Apr 21, 2010
11,734
721
660
Manila, Philippines
#40
I don't think the world needs another $100,000 speaker, well not unless it comes with a kitchen, plumbing and a fold down mattress. I would be much more impressed with room friendly, attainable, full range speakers. If this speaker brings advancements to working class audiophiles that's something.
That's why there are 6 little brothers to choose from :)
 

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